Don’t be fooled by that photo. It may look like a spa, but there’s a lot of intense labor that goes on here. Literally. It’s a labor and delivery room at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center.

That garden tub is not for a water birth. It’s for hydrotherapy, which can help ease the pain of labor and may speed up delivery. Although research has shown hydrotherapy to be beneficial to mom and baby, there’s something else at work here – something science can’t measure: a level of pampering and attention that new moms-to-be deserve.

Creating a soothing environment

Delivering in one of the six rooms with a hydrotherapy tub is a great option for women who want to experience natural childbirth, and they have the option to use it for as little or (almost) as long as they like. Once they're ready to start pushing, it's time to move to a bed.

Moms in labor aren't limited by their option to use a hydrotherapy room. Should a woman decide during labor she needs something more for discomfort – like IV pain medication or an epidural – she can choose these and still deliver in the hydrotherapy room.

Of the six hydrotherapy tubs available at Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem, there’s one dedicated just for women using a midwife for their labor and delivery. The midwives’ birthing room has a queen-sized bed; the other five have single beds.

The tub and the queen bed aren’t the only niceties in the midwives’ birthing room. Twinkle lights, essential oil diffusers and flameless candles help create a soothing environment. Moms are encouraged to bring in her favorite relaxation music. This level of comfort reduces fear, which eases pain and helps the labor process go more smoothly.

Partners are as involved as they want to be. Some pour water over the mom’s belly or massage her shoulders while she’s in the tub. They offer hydration and encouragement. Many women who choose natural childbirth have a doula – a companion during labor – with them. If a doula is present, she might do some of the massaging. The tubs are clothing-optional and the mom-to-be can decide what feels right to her: nude, a swimsuit, or comfortable clothing.

Research-backed relaxation

While the aesthetics and the atmosphere are a nice plus, hydrotherapy rooms are science-based, too. Research shows that using hydrotherapy during labor can help a patient's pain and anxiety and promote pelvic muscle relaxation, which could possibly decrease the duration of labor. Water immersion during labor improves placental perfusion, meaning oxygenation through the placenta to the baby, and has been shown to increase maternal satisfaction and create a sense of control for the woman.

The tubs aren't heated, and there aren’t whirlpool jets. The water is maintained at a temperature supported for hydrotherapy – no more than 100 degrees. This helps ensure mom's and baby's temperatures are kept at a safe level.

Any provider with a patient delivering at Novant Health has access to these rooms. Most women planning on a natural birth are requesting hydrotherapy – and they can have it, space allowing, if they meet certain criteria. Hydrotherapy is available for most low-risk pregnancies, regardless of the mom's insurance status.